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Game Preview: Virginia

A top-20 matchup in the ACC, this is the biggest game of the season for the conference. Not just Florida State, and not just Virginia, but the state of the conference. Both teams should be top-15* by the time the new AP polls come out, and these are the only two teams in the conference to make any sort of national noise. It’s primetime television, part of ESPN’s Big Monday, and both teams desperately need a win to boost some subpar resumes so far.

*EDIT: voters put FSU 16th

For FSU, a win puts them right back in the conversation for the ACC regular season championship, whereas a win for Virginia almost guarantees them the ACC regular season championship. If the tournament were to be canceled (which again, I would be for), this is going to be something that really matters for both teams. The pressure is on, and the stage is big, one team is going to come away looking really impressive with a win.

This game will be on ESPN at 7pm, live from the Donald L Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, FL.

#7 Virginia Cavaliers (15-3, 11-1) Breakdown

This team is an interesting case for offensive study. It’s easily the best shooting team Tony Bennett has ever had, and it’s a four-headed scoring machine. After their first four guys, it’s a deep drop off in terms of both production and skill level. For Florida State, limit two of them, force a third to step up. And as efficient as Virginia is offensively, they’ll have these five minute stretches where they just cannot buy a bucket.

Virginia’s stats don’t look all that impressive simply because of how few possessions they have. They’re one of those teams that once you look at per 100 possessions, their numbers look extremely impressive. They’re 12th in offensive efficiency scoring 116.3 points per 100 possessions, and 11th in defensive efficiency allowing just 90.2 points per 100 possessions. It’s not quite the same defensive prowess we’ve seen from the Cavaliers the last half decade plus, but they’re making up for it by just lighting up nets.

There are four players on this team shooting above 40% from 3, including their three leading scorers: Sam Hauser (43.9%), Jay Huff (47.3%), Trey Murphy (48.8%), and Thomas Woldetensae (41.5%). Insane percentages across the board. Murphy at 48.8% is absurd, and one of the reasons he’s the best NBA prospect on this team. Having their forwards and center be the best shooters on the team are not only uncommon, but opens up so much for the rest of the offense.

Their 39.9% 3pt shooting as a team is 6th in the country, and their 41.2% 3pt shooting in conference games is second only to Florida State. Virginia is a little more consistent game-to-game shooting the ball than Florida State, each team has had 5 games shooting below 34% from 3 but UVA has played 4 more games thus far. It’s not a stretch to say this is a battle of ceiling vs floor. Florida State has the much higher ceiling, but Virginia has the much higher floor.

Spot-ups are their only shot type that take up more than 10% of their shots, and that’s spot-ups at 37.5% of their possessions. Insane. Off-ball screens and cuts both take up around 9% of their possessions, which are both high numbers as well. Very few teams score as much on off-ball screens like Virginia or use as many possessions like Virginia, and that’s a credit to how many shots come off of mover-blocker. They’ve bounced back and forth between mover-blocker and a more modern looking offense throughout the season. Usually I’d break the mover-blocker down, but Virginia completely scrapped it against Florida State last season to go to more traditional ball screens and isolations, and I expect the same this game.

Defensively, it’s still the same pack-line defense that Tony Bennett has perfected. Turning Jay Huff into the player he is, is thanks to the pack-line defense. Sure, his offensive development over his career is impressive, but this defensive system maximizes his skillset. A guy like Balsa Koprivica that is so skilled around the rim, if he plays, that he can opens up looks at the rim and can get Huff caught out of position.

They’re going to do anything possible to keep transition baskets from happening after they get a shot up. There are very few times where they chase after an offensive rebound, and they have three guys back across half court by the time their opposition gets settled down with the ball. Virginia allows so few transition chances per game, only about 8 per game, but they’re so poor in those transition chances, allowing 1.137 PPP, bottom 10% nationally.

For a good display of their defense, here is a 4-minute video of their defense against Duke last season and you can see the tough shots they force.

Sam Hauser has really impressed this season after transferring from Marquette before last season. He got a season to sit and learn the system and is now putting up very quality numbers and is the focal point of this offense, someone they really needed last season. He’s the only player on the team above 10 FGA per game, only player with 5+ 3PA per game, and leads the team in rebounding. He can and will get shots off from anywhere on the floor. The fact he’ll start possessions be guarded by RaiQuan Gray is a massive advantage for FSU, and might limit his production to start possessions. Sadly, very few possessions end quickly for Virginia.

I’ve spoken about it a little bit, but Jay Huff’s development from his freshman season to now is extremely impressive. He was borderline unplayable a couple of season ago, and the fact he’s now a go-to offensive option is mind-blowing to me. His ability to step out and hit a 3 consistently is a major battle for defenses. Do you stick with him and give up driving lanes or do you slack off and let him fire away? It’s a debate the staff is going through now, although I’d rather slack off of Beekman.

Trey Murphy has emerged as an NBA prospect for his mix of size and athleticism at 6’9″ and his shooting prowess at almost 50% shooting from 3. Any player at that size that can shoot the ball that well is going to impress scouts, and the fact they run him at small forward is impressive as well. As long as Anthony Polite is on him, I feel okay with what he’ll eb able to do.

And now we get to out X-factor of this game: Kihei Clark. Dynamite in a Tylenol bottle, he can just explode to the rim because of his size, generously listed at 5’9″ (he’s closer to 5’7″). Virginia’s gameplan last year involved just Clark isolating on bigger defenders, getting to the rim, and either scoring, getting fouled, or dishing to an open player. I’m curious where Virginia sticks him when they’re on defense and Scottie Barnes is in the game, because he’ll legitimately get bullied in those scenarios, and likely the same against MJ Walker. I think the most likely option is putting him on Anthony Polite or Wyatt Wilkes, who are more of sharpshooters and don’t have the same ball-handling abilities. Murphy would likely be switched onto Barnes when he’s on the floor.

Players from here don’t matter a ton. Those are the four main guys that’ll have their own pages on the scouting report. Reece Beekman is a great defender and not much of anything else, only taking about 4 shots per game. Thomas Woldetensae is a solid 3-and-D player with size, but doesn’t play a ton. Casey Morsell and Justin McKoy are just depth, essentually.

Team Stats PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG          FG%/3PT%/FT%

Virginia Produces: 69.9/31.8 (6.1/25.7)/14.3/4.9/3.9/9.3/12.7          49.0/39.9/80.0

Virginia Allows: 58.8/29.1 (7.3/21.8)/11.4/4.9/2.0/9.9/12.6          40.8/32.1/73.8

Player Stats

#10 Sam Hauser 15.1/7.1/1.9/0.6/0.3/1.2/1.2                           51.0/43.9/82.8

#30 Jay Huff 13.4/6.7/1.1/0.5/2.4/1.2/2.6                                62.5/47.3/78.8

#25 Trey Murphy 11.5/3.3/1.2/0.7/0.4/0.7/1.8                        53.0/48.8/90.3

#0 Kihei Clark 9.8/1.8/4.6/0.6/0.0/2.2/1.2                              43.2/29.8/73.9

#2 Reece Beekman 5.4/3.2/2.9/1.4/0.4/1.3/1.4                       41.3/30.8/74.2

#13 Casey Morsell 5.1/1.4/0.6/0.4/0.2/0.6/1.0                        42.0/28.1/83.3

#53 Thomas Woldetensae 4.1/1.3/1.0/0.5/0.0/0.5/1.0          39.7/41.5/100.0

#4 Justin McKoy 3.4/2.8/0.6/0.2/0.0/0.3/1.1                         44.7/28.6/88.9

#16 Florida State Seminoles (11-3, 7-2) Breakdown

RaiQuan Gray’s emergence over the last few games has been imperative to this team’s success. In his last 6 games, Gray is averaging 16.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 2.3 STOCKS (steals plus blocks) per game. Insane number. He is Florida State’s best player right now, and I don’t think this is much of a debate. He leads the team in both defensive rating and defensive box plus/minus, his offensive rating is now up to third on the team, and has the highest overall box plus/minus on the team. He should be in consideration for ACC most improved, and arguably ACC POTY since there’s no truly elite candidate this year. Gray will be matched up with Virginia’s best player, Sam Hauser, for most of the game.

Where Florida State will bread their butter is from the 3pt-line. Florida State leads the ACC in 3pt shooting in conference games at a blistering 41.8%, and is 20th in the country in all games at 38.7%. This is a really great shooting team that has some lapses every so often. Guys will need to be able to shoot over the short close-outs of Virginia if they want to have a more dynamic offense.

The shot creators are going to important in this game; Gray, Scottie Barnes, RayQuan Evans, even MJ Walker. They’re going to have to get downhill in those tightly closing gaps to open up shots for the rest of the offense. These 4 alone combine for almost 8 turnovers a game, and if they combine for around or above that number, it’s going to be a rough game for FSU.

One last thing to watch for is how Florida State plays Virginia defensively. In the past, FSU had a very specific way of chasing Virginia in their mover-blocker sets to defend it. For example, watch how Florida State played it in 2018-19:

Florida State’s wing defenders were going to chase directly behind to avoid quick catch-and-shoots, their bigs were going to front the post to avoid over the top passes, and they were going to try and force the primary ball-handler to create something for himself. Did this change at all last season when FSU went to a switch everything defense last season?

Well, UVA didn’t play mover-blocker against it. It was a LOT of this.

Kihei Clark is one of the quickest players in the country, and FSU was content leaving guys on an island and it sometimes resulted in plays like above. It more often resulted in Kihei Clark blowing by someone for a layup, a foul, or creating for someone else. He’s a good enough shooter where you have to respect the shot, but he is so, so dangerous inside. In the two matchups last season, Clark went for a combined 22 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds (insane, he’s listed as a generous 5’9″), and 4 steals. When Virginia limits possessions as much as they do, those are pretty impressive numbers over two games.

The difference this season is Virginia has Sam Hauser. I honestly have no idea how Virginia will use him against FSU, considering FSU’s best defender is slated to be matched up against him, because Virginia has never had a player like Hauser at the 4 in Bennett’s tenure. Sticking him a corner, like the gameplan was last season, is a mistake, he’s too talented. Letting him isolate against Gray is also a mistake, simply because of how great of a defender Gray is. They’re going to have to try and get him into mover-blocker sets to get him open.

Injury Report

Balsa Koprivica missed last game after “turning his ankle” in warmups against Wake Forest. He was still dressed out for the game, and will likely be a game-time decision against Virginia. Florida State needs him and his interior presence.

Kody Stattmann has been sidelined since early January with a non-COVID related cardiac issue. He’s listed on some sites as being a game-time decision, but I don’t see him playing.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Kopriciva/Malik Osborne

Virginia

G: Kihei Clark

G: Reece Beekman

G: Trey Murphy

F: Sam Hauser

C: Jay Huff

Keys to the Game

Barnes Touches the Paint on 75% of Drives

Scottie Barnes may not start, but he’s still going to play 25+ minutes, like he did against Wake Forest; RayQuan Evans played just 17 the other night. He needs to be in the paint on every drive attempt. Virginia is going to squeeze on driving lanes, and force the ball-handler to give up the ball sooner than they should. With Barnes’s size (this applies to Gray too, but he won’t have the same matchups that Barnes will), he should be able to bully his way into the paint. Whether UVA sticks Beekman or Clark on him, he’s going to have so much size on them.

This is not a game where he can be passive. Barnes getting into the paint is going to have so much gravity against Virginia’s defense. If I’m the coaching staff, every time he passes or shoots without getting a foot into the paint, he’s running a sprint the next day.

Dictate Your Own Pace

Virginia is the slowest team in the country by almost two full possessions a game. They’re the only team in the country averaging fewer than 60 possessions per 40 minutes. You cannot allow Virginia to dictate their own pace. Get them moving, speed them up somehow. Force them into transition opportunities. You’d rather Virginia play 1-on-1 in transition with Florida State’s athletes than 5-on-5 with Tony Bennett’s pace.

If FSU is turning the ball over, it actually almost needs to be live ball, as long as they have someone back that can contend at the rim. If they’re pressuring, it needs to be to force UVA to advance the ball faster. Virginia doesn’t force turnovers, they’re 33rd-worst nationally in forced turnover rate. They’re also one of the best in they country with a turnover rate themselves of less than 14%. They play a very low-risk, low reward type of basketball, and this is just one example of it.

Score 60

Here is a list of FSU’s last 10 scoring outputs against Virginia with the wins bolded: 56, 5469, 52, 55, 6069, 49, 41, 51. There’s a pretty clear theme there. There have also been 8 games this season where Virginia has allowed more than 60: all three of their losses to Gonzaga, San Francisco, and Virginia Tech, an OT win over Kent State, and 4 closer than anticipated games against Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Wake Forest. If you want to give yourself a chance against Virginia, you score 60.

There are different ways to do it, like we discussed earlier. You can bully Kihei Clark, like David Nichols did to UVA in the ACC Tournament a few seasons ago, you can shoot lights out from 3, like VT did earlier this season. There are ways to beat them, you just have to be smart.

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as a 1-point favorite with an over/under of 130.

My first instinct for this game was first to 56 wins. The over under of 130 seems extremely high, that’s like a 66-64 kind of game. This is going to be a slow game with very few possessions so FSU is going to have to take care of the ball and make the most of their offensive possessions. No unnecessary sloppiness. I think FSU is a good enough shooting team from deep to make Virginia pay in their pack-line defense, and has the size to stop some of their better scorers.

The ACC needs this to be a close game for the league’s respectability. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the league is telling the officials to try and keep it close if at all possible.

I’ll take Florida State 62-58.

 


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